Tuesday 25 April 2017

Funding decision for hospital on hold

Michael Brennan and Eilish O'Regan

THE future funding of the new national children's hospital -- costing in the region of €650m -- was placed in doubt by the Government last night.

The Government failed to commit the funds necessary to build the hospital after the Cabinet agreed it should be built on the site of the Mater hospital in Dublin.

It held off on agreeing to fund the project even though Health Minister Dr James Reilly has previously pledged to go ahead with its construction after the findings of an independent review.

The review, presented to the Cabinet, paves the way for the project to proceed but its height will be reduced from the original 16 storeys. Planning permission has yet to be submitted for the hospital and this is likely to take several months, even allowing for the fast-track method -- going straight to An Bord Pleanala -- that is being used.

However, an oral hearing involving objections by opponents to the site is inevitable and will cause more delays. But it will allow the Government breathing space before having to come up with the first layer of funding.

A government spokesman said it would form part of the spending review of all capital projects, which is due to be completed in September. And he said that the inclusion of the hospital in the HSE's capital projects budget was made "by a previous administration".

Dr Reilly is due to announce further details about the Government's plans today.

The original aim was to have the hospital open in 2012 but the current completion date is 2015. According to a recent estimate by Department of Health officials, every month it is delayed will cost between €550,000 to €650,000.

Shortage

There is a fully staffed agency -- the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board -- tasked with getting the hospital built. Around €29.3m has already been spent on the project.

The government decision in 2006 to locate the new hospital on the Mater site sparked accusations of political favouritism because it was in then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's Dublin Central constituency. It has been estimated that building the children's hospital on a greenfield site outside of Dublin could cost €50m less than the Mater plan.

However, the review team made up of experts from abroad recommended that that Mater should be retained as the location.

Meanwhile, paediatric services in the north-east are among the first casualties of the upcoming shortage of junior doctors -- with children waiting longer for outpatient appointments, it emerged yesterday.

The HSE confirmed that some paediatric services in hospitals in the Louth and Meath region will be cut back due to a shortage of junior doctors.

It will mean a reduction in the number of outpatient clinics which will push the waiting time for routine appointments from 16-32 weeks.

Irish Independent

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